‘Bittersweet’: B.C.’s Munro Books reflects on celebrated author’s death

Justina Elias says she didn’t know about the connection legendary Canadian writer Alice Munro had to the Victoria, B.C., bookstore that bears her name, but she quickly found out.

Elias, who runs the fiction section at Munro’s Books, said the “serendipity” of ending up working at a book store founded by the writer she idolized “never ceases to amaze me.”

Munro, whose short stories of small-town Ontario earned her an international fan base and the Nobel Prize in literature, died Monday at the age of 92.

Click to play video: 'Canadian author, Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro dies at 92'

Canadian author, Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro dies at 92

Her daughter Jenny Munro said the celebrated writer, who had dementia for many years, died at an Ontario care home where she had spent her last days surrounded by family and friends.

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“It’s so funny because when I moved out to Victoria, I didn’t know anything about the lore of the store,” Elias said in an interview at Munro’s Books, while standing near a book of condolences for the writer.

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“I had just finished my master’s in creative writing,” she said. “I was looking for some sort of job and a nice bookstore was hiring, and then I found out it was Munro’s Books, as in that Munro, like the Munro I’d been idolizing for all of my adult life.”

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Elias apologizes for gushing about Munro at the time of her death, but said the author has been a huge influence on her life and her own career as a writer.

“I’ve read all of her work,” said Elias. “The first of hers that I read was ‘Miles City, Montana.’ I was 19 and I was in a short-fiction class in university trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I remember being dazzled that you could do that in 20 pages. It changed my life. It shaped me as a person and a writer.”

Munro’s Books set up a guest book inside the bookstore for people to share their memories.

“I am so grateful for Alice Munro, her insights into human nature and the gift that made her so brilliantly able to share them with us,” said a message from Sylvia Malthouse. “Thank you, Alice, for starting this wonderful independent bookstore and to all of you that keep it and her passion for bookstores alive and thriving.”

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Click to play video: 'Alice Munro’s Nobel prize awarded'

Alice Munro’s Nobel prize awarded

Elias said the store posted a tribute to Munro on social media and immediately received hundreds of comments and shares.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s tragic she’s gone, but what a legacy to leave behind.”

Munro and her former husband, Jim, opened Munro’s Books in 1963.

“She and Jim had a vision for the store in 1963 and they wanted to carry stuff you couldn’t get elsewhere,” said Elias. “They wanted literary titles. They wanted weird stuff. They wanted nice stuff. They didn’t just want pleasant tourist books about gardening. It was supposed to go deeper than that. I think that vision has continued to this day.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, an avid reader whose spouse, Renee Saklikar, is a poet, said Munro is one of Canada’s greatest writers whose stories “have been transformative for many people.”

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“Anyone who loves books. Anyone who reads books. Anyone who writes books,” he said. “Anyone who loves literature in this country, loves Alice Munro.”

Munro was revered for spare prose and stories that probed the human condition. Her tales were so deeply layered they seemed like novels, many have remarked.

“She is famous for being able to do so much with so little,” said Elias. “One of the things she does structurally that’s fascinating is how she compresses time.”

The Swedish Academy summed up the thoughts of many in the global literary community when it hailed Munro as the “master of the contemporary short story” in awarding her the Nobel Prize in fall 2013.

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